Literacy Tips

Literacy Tip of the Week: October 14, 2019

posted Oct 13, 2019, 2:49 PM by Emily Richardson

I posted this literacy tip earlier this year. So many have found it useful that I've decided to post it again in case someone missed it.

ELL students often leave off the endings of words when they read. In Latin-based European languages, words tend to end with continuous or open sounds, so ending sounds blend right into the initial sounds of the next spoken word. The idea of “Romance” languages stems from this common trait among Latin-based languages. Words flow so melodically from one to the next that they’re pleasant to the ear. That is not the case with English. Many endings for English words are derived from German and Dutch, languages much more harsh sounding.   

Students whose native language is Latin-based are not used to pronouncing and stopping sounds so abruptly. They have no concept of certain “stop” sounds. Non-native English-speaking students tend to read words as they would be pronounced phonetically in their native languages. 

Just a few minutes of explicit instruction during a guided reading lesson can make such a profound difference in developing students’ reading skills. During a guided reading lesson, we can prompt students to read all the way through the words and teach them to consciously pronounce and enunciate ending sounds as they read. All it takes to establish those neural pathways for English sounds is a few minutes of laser-targeted instruction scaffolded within a few guided reading lessons.

by  Julie Taylor, Next Step Guided Reading Consultant

Literacy Tip of the Week: October 6, 2019

posted Oct 6, 2019, 4:00 PM by Emily Richardson   [ updated Oct 6, 2019, 4:01 PM ]

Expanding Vocabulary

Research on vocabulary acquisition has revealed that most vocabulary is learned indirectly through everyday experiences with oral and written language, and that children benefit from direct instruction in new words and vocabulary strategies (Cunningham, 2009). Students learn vocabulary indirectly when they are read to, when they read on their own, and when they converse with others, especially adults. Although there are lots of exceptions (my husband is one), children from professional families generally have richer vocabularies because they hear more words in the home (Hart & Risley, 1995). 


This week I want to suggest some steps for teaching vocabulary during whole class lessons. Next month I’ll address teaching vocabulary and vocabulary strategies during small group guided reading.


Explicitly Teaching Vocabulary During a Read Aloud

Step 1. Select a book that supports vocabulary development. It should have some challenging words that are defined in the glossary or supported by text clues or illustrations. For older readers, look for challenging multisyllabic words that contain common affixes and roots. Write 5-7 of these challenging words on index cards.


Step 2. During the read aloud, discuss the target vocabulary words you wrote on the index cards. Children have a better chance of remembering them when they can connect them to a book. Model how to use one of the following strategies:

            - Substitute a word that makes sense.  

            - Reread or read on and search for clues.

            - Make a connection to a word the students know. If you have English learners, use common cognates.

            - Find a part they know. It could be part of a compound word or an affix or root.

            - Use the glossary.


Step 3. After reading the book, distribute an index card to partners or triads and have them use the word to retell part of the book.


Step 4. Make a vocabulary word wall by posting the index cards with a copy of the book cover. Use some of these fun and engaging practice activities.


Vocabulary Review Activities


GUESS THIS WORD: Place the Vocabulary cards you have taught on the table. Give a clue about one of the words by saying, I’m thinking of a word… Students try to identify the word. You could give clues such as the definition, how many syllables, the part of speech, an antonym or synonym, the meaning of the affix, etc.


PUT TWO WORDS TOGETHER: Students create a sentence using two vocabulary words you have taught.


PICTURE THIS: Place the vocabulary cards face up on the table. One student draws or acts out one of the words while the others in the group try to guess it.


HIGH FIVE:  One student writes down a word from their New Word List, and the others try to guess it by asking questions. The goal is to guess the word in less than five questions.



Jan Richardson, Ph.D.

Author and Consultant

Literacy Tip of the Week: September 29

posted Sep 29, 2019, 3:26 PM by Emily Richardson   [ updated Sep 29, 2019, 3:28 PM ]

Letter Formation with Jack Hartman

I had the privilege of pairing up with Jack Hartman to create a fun and engaging video series on teaching letter formation. Click here for an engaging set of videos that teach letter names, sounds, and formation!

Literacy Tip of the Week: September 22

posted Sep 22, 2019, 3:24 PM by Emily Richardson   [ updated Sep 22, 2019, 3:28 PM ]

Four Steps for Teaching Sight Words

I have seen several videos on Youtube that have used my four steps for teaching a sight word. Unfortunately, the videos were not accurate. Click here to see the correct steps and an explanation of each procedure.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of September 15th

posted Aug 30, 2019, 7:29 PM by Courtney Richardson   [ updated Sep 15, 2019, 1:46 PM by Emily Richardson ]

Word Study Literacy Tip from Carolyn Gwinn


Utilize the Assess-Decide-Guide Framework to Ensure Effective Word Study Instruction--Meet Jacob!


As a nation-wide staff developer focused on the implementation of customized guided reading, I am frequently asked how to best engage learners in effective word study. Jan and Michele have authored a timely publication intended to help us design and deliver developmentally appropriate word study and phonics instructioneven more strategically. Let me offer steps to take based on the practices featured in The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics (2019)and The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading (2016),as well as my long-term work with students including Jacob (pseudonym).

I began to work intensively with Jacob at the close of his second-grade year. His data revealed a struggle with skills including digraphs. As suggested by Jan and Michele, I led Jacob through a series of word study activities during his guided reading lessons. Across his journey of learning, I monitored Jacob to confirm he was utilizing his newly acquired word study skills when reading and writing. 

More specifically, Jacob first engaged in picture sorting (The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics, p. 34) to help him hear sounds and link them to letters. Once he accurately and confidently sorted pictures featuring digraphs, we then focused on making words, which challenged him to visually scan words to check for letter/sound accuracy (The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics, p. 36). As he demonstrated proficiency with making words, he then engaged in sound boxes (The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics, p. 38) with the intent of helping him hear and record sounds in sequence. The sophistication of his word study activities increased as he displayed proficiency. I repeatedly witnessed the value of strategically embedding word study into his guided reading lessons. I celebrated as he applied what he was learning about letters, sounds and words when reading and writing. 

A summary of the steps taken to help Jacob become a more proficient word-solver, which are presented by Jan and Michele in their Assess-Decide-Guide Framework (The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics, p. 20), is as follows: 

·     Assess:Examine Jacob’s data to determine word study needs and strengths

·     Decide:Determine the word study activities aligned to Jacob’s need 

·     Guide:Plan and teach needs-based word study instruction.

Try Jan and Michele’s framework. The results are invigorating and rewarding for learners and teachers alike!

Author: Carolyn Gwinn, PhD; Educational Consultant (

Go to order your copy of Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of May 26th

posted May 28, 2019, 4:56 PM by Courtney Richardson

Feeling Discouraged? Look back! 
Are you an optimist or a pessimist? I lean heavily toward optimism, but I have to admit there are times when I get discouraged, especially when students don’t make the progress I expect. How can we maintain optimism despite the daily setbacks and frustrations of teaching? I’m convinced it’s by looking back. When you’re feeling down, remember those children you thought would never make it, the ones who gave you the most sleepless nights. Then remember the elation you felt when those same kids finally made a breakthrough and began to progress. Keep looking back! Teachers not only make a difference, teachers ARE the difference! We must never let ourselves forget that.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of May 19th

posted May 20, 2019, 7:06 PM by Courtney Richardson

I recently had a wonderful conversation with Greg and Jen from West Dubuque School District. Click below to hear this engaging podcast about guided reading: How Guided Reading Works.

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of May 6, 2019

posted May 6, 2019, 6:31 PM by Courtney Richardson

Read Alouds + Chapter 7 = Powerful Instruction Combination
Chapter 7 of Next Steps Forward and high-quality picture books are a perfect combination! Students, not only need, but deserve rich literacy experiences that exemplify excellence and equity. The use of high-quality picture books during read-alouds can provide an entry point into engaging instruction that demonstrates how to use comprehension strategies and develops core knowledge, expanding students’ understanding of the world.

1. Start by selecting a high-quality picture book that will interest students and connect or expand knowledge of cultures, backgrounds, or concepts found in other content areas. Look for a variety of text types and genres connected to other disciplines such as Science, Social Studies, Mathematics and the Arts. Lists of award winning texts can be found at and Additionally, consider texts by authors in your city, region, or state.
2. Read through the text several times, paying careful attention to how you construct meaning as a reader. Consider the following questions to determine what rich elements the text contains and at what level readers have the opportunity to engage (Gold & Gibson, 2019).
  • Is it a good story?
  • Is it worth sharing with my students?
  • Does the story sound good to the ear when read aloud?
  • Will it appeal to your students?
  • Will students find the text relevant to their lives and culture?
  • Will the text spark conversation?
  • Will the text motivate deeper topical understanding?
  • Does the text inspire students to find or listen to another book on the same topic? By the same author? Written in the same genre?
  • Is the text memorable?
  • Will students want to hear or read the story again?
3. Select a comprehension strategy from Chapter 7 that matches your standards, meets the needs of your students, and can be taught using the selected text. Keep in mind that really great texts can often be used to teach multiple strategies! Personally, these are my favorites! 
4. Construct a series of lessons (2-3 days) using an interactive read aloud format for whole group instruction. Plan your lessons by looking for three to four stopping points within the text to pause and teach the comprehension strategy. Use a gradual release model at each stopping point, placing more of the work on students each time.
5. Use the first day in the sequence of your lessons as a straight read aloud through the text, keeping any pausing to a minimum and stopping only to highlight vocabulary, complex structures, or illustrations. This will allow students to take in the entire story. Consider asking students to apply a retelling strategy (BME or 5 Finger Retell) once the text is completed. 
6. The next day, do a quick review of the text and teach new vocabulary words using the four steps for vocabulary introduction. At the first stopping point, teach students how to apply the selected comprehension strategy. During each consecutive stopping point, ask student partnerships to work together, practicing the comprehension strategy as you provide support and scaffolding.
7. The following day use the same text and format to teach a deeper level comprehension strategy, Modules 23-28, or construct a shared writing piece together.
8. Consider revisiting portions of the book and teaching mini-lessons that push deeper into writing about the text, foundational literacy skills, word knowledge, or author’s craft on additional days.

Combining read alouds with comprehension instruction is one of the most powerful practices you can implement in your classroom. It levels the playing field and allows for ALL readers to collaboratively practice and engage with texts at a deep, sophisticated level. Meticulous selecting of texts along with intentional planning can enrich the reading lives of your students and lead to more meaningful comprehension when reading independently.

Gold, J. & Gibson, A. (2019). Reading aloud to build comprehension. Retrieved from

Written by: Debbie Rosenow, Next Steps Literacy Consultant,

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of April 28th

posted Apr 28, 2019, 6:08 PM by Courtney Richardson

Word Study Coming Soon!
I’m putting the finishing touches on The Next Step Forward in Word Study and Phonics, co-authored with Michele Dufresne. Michele and I do three things in this new book: 1) We explain why word study should be part of every guided reading lesson, 2) We present a practical method for teaching word study at each reading stage, and 3) We offer instructional guidance and sample lesson plans to make word study effective and easy to implement. Scholastic will release the book this fall. 

Literacy Tip of the Week: Week of April 21st

posted Apr 21, 2019, 8:42 PM by Courtney Richardson

Rescue Me!
As a research project, I’ve been working with a second-grade student who is reading significantly below grade level. While I was reading with her last week, I noticed she kept turning her head to look at me, sometimes for confirmation and other times to see if I would rescue her. Of course, whenever she turned her head, she lost her place in the book. I knew we needed to change this. At first, I said, "Don’t look at me. You need to look at the book." That brought her attention back to the book, but it didn’t stop her from looking at me the next time. Finally, I held up a folder between my face and hers. She stopped looking at me, kept her eyes on the page, and read much better! Sometimes a simple solution is right there in front of our eyes. 

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